Crisis and Continuity at the Abbasid Court

Formal and Informal Politics in the Caliphate of al-Muqtadir (295-320/908-32)


The reign of al-Muqtadir (295-320/908-32) is a crucial and controversial epoch in the history of the Abbasid empire. Al-Muqtadir’s regime has traditionally been depicted as one of decline, when the political power of the caliphate and the lustre of its capital began to crumble. This book not only offers a substantial investigation of the idea and reality of decline, but also provides new interpretations of the inner workings of the court and the empire. The authors, four specialists of Abbasid history, explore the formal and informal power relationships that shaped politics at the court, involving bureaucrats, military, harem, courtiers and of course al-Muqtadir himself. A study of the topography of Baghdad completes this vivid picture of the court and its capital.

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Maaike van Berkel, Ph.D. (Amsterdam, 2003) is Associate Professor of Medieval History at the University of Amsterdam. Her research focuses on communication, court and urban history in the medieval Middle Eastern world.
Nadia Maria El Cheikh is Professor of History at the American University of Beirut. Her book, Byzantium Viewed by the Arabs, was published in 2004. Her other main areas of research are gender history and court history in the Abbasid period.
Hugh Kennedy studied for his MA and Ph.D. at Cambridge and taught at the University of St Andrews from 1972 to 2007, becoming Professor of Middle Eastern History. From 2007 he has been Professor of Arabic at SOAS, University of London.
Letizia Osti, Ph.D. (St Andrews, 2002) is Ricercatore in Lingua e Letteratura Araba at the University of Milan. Her work focuses on classical Arabic prose and narrative techniques in biographical collections, historiography, literature and intersections thereof.
« L’ouvrage est d’une grande qualite formelle et le fil conducteur entre les differents chapitres apparait clairement. L’interet de ce livre reside sans conteste dans le fait qu’il donne a voir et a penser des interactions entre les differentes spheres qui animaient la vie politique sous al-Muqtadir. Ces spheres loin d’etre isolees les unes des autres etaient liees entre elles par des reseaux, que les auteurs se sont attaches a mettre en lumiere. Les auteurs presentent un tableau vivant des mecanismes a l’oeuvre en identifiant les strategies baties par les differents acteurs du regne d’al-Muqtadir. Il en resulte un ouvrage coherent, renouvelant l’approche sur cette periode mouvementee de l’histoire abbasside en inscrivant sa reflexion dans celle des court studies.”
Eugénie Rébillard in: Arabica 61 (2014) 613-629.

"A lot of thought and effort must have gone into framing this book and there is no doubt that it was worth it."
Konrad Hirschler in: Al-Abhath 64 (2016).
"This is an excellent book and is deeply rewarding to read. There remains a great deal of work to be done on al-Muqtadir and the structure of the Abbasid state, but these four scholars have lit a clear path forward."
John P. Turner in: Early Medieval Europe, 25 (2017).
Time line
Map of caliphate

Part I
1. The Reign of al-Muqtadir (295-320/908-32): A History, Hugh Kennedy
2. The Caliph, Letizia Osti

Part II
3. The Vizier, Maaike van Berkel
4. The Bureaucracy, Maaike van Berkel
5. The Military, Hugh Kennedy

Part III
6. The Chamberlains, Nadia Maria El Cheikh
7. The Harem, Nadia Maria El Cheikh
8. Culture, Education and the Court, Letizia Osti

General Conclusion

Appendix: Baghdad at the Time of al-Muqtadir, Judith Ahola and Letizia Osti
Scholars and students of Islamic history and Arabic literature; historians of Byzantium and the Medieval Latin West; court historians.Undergraduates and graduates in courses on Medieval History, Islamic History and Arabic literature.
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